Getting to know you: Future missionaries surf for agencies

 

This is the first in a three-post series.

Every day, people considering long-term cross-cultural service visit sending agency websites and social media pages.  What they experience in a few quick clicks can inspire them to bookmark a site, tweet about it to friends or complete an inquiry form.  Or it can lead them to a quick exit.

With mobilization events like Urbana and MissionsFest taking place in the next few weeks, agencies should be ready to put their best foot forward in assisting field-bound people to discover the next step in their journey.

Next month, GMI will field the 2013 Agency Web Review, in which hundreds of people considering long-term cross-cultural service will explore dozens of sending agency web sites, evaluating various website elements and providing helpful open-ended comments. Participating agencies will receive agency-specific reports with detailed feedback on their site, plus comparative data showing how the site’s ratings compare to a group of several dozen other agencies.

The study draws on GMI’s opt-in panel of more than 3,000 people who have confirmed that they are considering a career in cross-cultural mission. 

Eight years ago GMI fielded the first edition of the Agency Web Review, which provided actionable results for agency web designers and mobilization staff.  Kristi Crisp of World Gospel Mission had this to say about the study:

The Agency Web Review results helped us to set a better direction and convinced us of the need for changes.  …The World Gospel Mission website is a completely different site now.  We changed our focus to getting people actually going…whether with our organization or with somebody else.

In anticipation of the 2013 study, we are taking time to review a few of the highlights of the 2004 study.  The electronic communications landscape has changed dramatically since then, but many of the findings from 2004 continue to be useful. 

We asked which of 11 key activities people considering a missions career had done.  Visiting agency websites ranked fourth on the list (after attending conferences, reading mission books/newsletters and talking with missionaries).  Six out of 10 prospects had already visited the website of a sending agency.

The following chart reveals stated priorities for missionary prospects when visiting an agency site:

 

To us, the results suggest that the primary questions visitors of website visitors relate to identity: Who are you?  What do you do?  Where do you do it? What do you stand for?

Once those questions are answered, prospects feel free to consider, “OK, how would I fit in?” “What would it take for me to be a part?”

Stated priorities don’t reveal the degree to which elements of a website are linked to key response actions (more info in a few days on that), but they do express visitor expectations.  Therefore, we recommend that web designers make sure expectations are easily met without a lot of searching.  That means a well-placed “About Us” heading, opportunities that are dated and kept updated, and some explanation about what people can expect to happen after the inquiry form is submitted.  (That last item was the lowest-rated of 21 site elements tested across all organizations.)

In addition, we suggest providing some unexpected elements of “delight.”  A few of the unexpected pleasures encountered by site visitors include:

  • an opportunity to be prayed for by agency staff
  • engaging videos from field staff that give people a taste of daily life on the field
  • links to helpful resources for people considering service—even from other agencies

We noticed that the highest-rated agency websites tended not to minimize their service requirements, but they worked hard not to represent those requirements as barriers.  Their positioning was something like this:

“Becoming a missionary takes real commitment, knowledge and skills.  It’s not easy, but it is do-able, and we will walk alongside you to help you develop into an effective cross-cultural servant who enables others to realize all that God is calling them to.”

Do you know of an agency that incorporated user feedback into its website makeover? We’d love to hear about examples or standout experiences you’ve encountered.

Learn details about how to take part in the 2013 Agency Web Review here.